Fixing the late slip-up in the Europa League last season, Arsenal is through to the Round of 16, where they will take on, very storyline-esque, last year’s foe Olympiakos. For the neutral, Thursday was an entertaining match. Arsenal took a 2-1 aggregate lead, before seeing Benfica battle back to a 3-2 total, a life-line goal by Kieran Tierney, and a late winner by the Gunners’ star man Aubameyang. But if you are the kind of fan who stresses throughout and at each minute that ticks away while trailing, that probably wasn’t as enjoyable of a 2nd leg for you.
Arsenal will return to European action in a few weeks, but for now, they have a challenging match against away to Leicester. They were also in action on Thursday but bowed out of the Europa League after failing to score in either leg against Slavia Praha. But in the league, they’ve won four of their last five, including a 3-1 victory against Liverpool. Coupled with the fact that Arsenal surely has several players either in the fitness red-zone or very close to it, how should Arteta set up his team on Sunday as they look to climb back into the top half of the table?
- Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
- Gabriel Martinelli
- Martin Ødegaard
- Bukayo Saka
- Thomas Partey
- Hector Bellerin
- Calum Chambers
- Mat Ryan
- Left Out: Dani Ceballos, Reiss Nelson, Eddie Nketiah, & Alex Runarsson
- Out: Rob Holding (concussion)
- Look I know three points is the goal on Sunday, but we’ve been utilizing some of our key players with little rotation lately. If they can at least start out on the bench, and with no midweek game next week, that would be ideal considering we still have a lot of the season left. Aubameyang, Saka, and Bellerin in particular need a rest. And if the match is still there to be won with 20-30 minutes to go, maybe they can be an option.
- I’m sure the first thing that caught a lot of people’s eye was Willian, so let’s address that first. We could use an attacking line rotation, so two from Pepe, Willian, and Martinelli should come in, with Pepe being the near lock. Look, I prefer Martinelli over Willian, as I’m sure a lot of you do, but clearly, Arteta favors Willian, for whatever the reason. Sure he has four assists, but the opening day against Fulham was a bit of an outlier so far. And the coach’s comments after the Benfica win show that he believes Willian was a big difference in the final stretch of the match. So prepare yourself for Willian now and it’ll be better for those of you who will be upset if he shows up in the starting XI Sunday.
- While Odegaard and Smith Rowe looked great together against Leeds United, they might work best rotating the #10 role for the rest of this season. Likewise, with Nketiah pushed to the edges of the squad, Aubameyang and Lacazette should split time at the lone forward. Pepe/Martinelli on the left and Saka/Willian on the right (poor Reiss Nelson can’t catch a break).
- In the midfield, it would be nice to see the protection from Elneny and a more forward-thinking Thomas Partey, but Arteta needs to slowly ease Partey back in to avoid the mistake made twice already this season. With Dani Ceballos’ rough night in Greece, a Xhaka-Elneny pairing seems in order, even if they may tilt the Gunners towards a more defensive side.
- Mari’s back in and will pair with either Luiz or Gabriel, but fullback is where the real questions are. Cedric needs to start, but where? Tierney, like Partey, needs to be used carefully for the remainder of the season, and Bellerin has started nine matches in a row. Can we have two Cedric’s is not a question we thought we’d be asking, or want to be asking, but honestly it would be nice to rest Tierney and Bellerin. The only option that remains is Chambers at RB and Cedric at LB, because under no circumstances should Saka fill in at fullback.
- Arteta tends to rotate less than we might think he should. We aren’t in the era where you have to start someone every single match because they are the best option at that position. Especially, this season while the numerous midweek matches, clubs need to use their depth and, yes, at times rest their best players.
How to watch
Sunday (2/28) at 7:00 am ET / 4:00 am PT on NBCSN.
Arsenal - 1
Leicester City - 1